At the beginning of the XX century, i.e. 100 years ago, Russia was one of the largest empires on the planet, comparable only to the British and French empires. However, unlike the other ones, Russia did not have overseas colonies. Its territory stretched from Warsaw in the west to China and Japan in the east, from the Arctic Ocean in the north and to the borders with Iran and Afghanistan in the south.
Emperor Nicholas II was the head of the country. He issued laws (because was considered to be its the only source of law) and personally supervised the activities of ministers. At the beginning of the century, the country developed rapidly: each year its wealth increased by about 10%, industrial complex grew, culture flourished, many young businessmen appeared ready to create and develop their enterprises. Rich patrons founded theaters, museums, art galleries.
At the same time, there were many problems in Russia was torn apart by serious social problems. Although the wealth of the country grew, many workers remained poor, they had no social guarantees, did not have their own trade unions. The wealthy bourgeoisie and intelligentsia also wanted to rule the country and turn the state into a parliamentary monarchy. They cried for freedom of speech and assembly, free electoral system. However, their aspirations were suppressed by bureaucracy authority, which included many aristocrats and military officials. However the emperor was forced to make concessions to the bourgeoisie. In 1905, in the wake of the first Russian revolution Nicholas II issued a manifesto to establish the first Russian parliament (the State Duma). This Duma had the right to issue laws; however, the last word always was for the emperor. At the same time, he could arbitrarily dissolve the parliament and independently pass laws.
At the same time, 80% of Russians were peasants. They lived in large patriarchal communities, were engaged in agriculture, were deeply religious and believed that only the king-vicegerent of God on earth should rule the country. If in America farmers owns his own plots, in Russia most of the land belonged to a community that distributed its allotments among peasant families. Despite the fact that Russia had large territory, there was not enough land for everyone: the main population lived in western part, where a significant part of the land belonged to aristocrat-landowners, while Siberia was not sufficiently developed. Only since 1906, when Peter Stolypin became a prime minister, the policy of developing Siberia was elaborated: like American farmers moving to the West in XIX century, 5 million Russian peasants with the support of the state moved to the East, where they received free land. Moreover, Stolypin contributed to the formation of farming and private land property: according to the new laws, each peasant could demand a separate plot of land for private ownership from communal lands
Government reform was interrupted by the WWI. In late July 1914, Austria-Hungary attacked a small and freedom-loving Serbia. Russia stood up for her defense, trying to settle the crisis by peaceful methods. However, in response, Germany and Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia, and attacked…. France. Thus the First World War stated. 38 states participated in the war, including the United States. In patriotic enthusiasm 15 million people took up their guns to defend themselves from the aggressors. In 1914, the Russian army won a number of victories in Galicia, reached the Carpathian Mountains and defeated the Germans near Warsaw. A special heroism was distinguished by Russian Cossacks, who by courage and skill can be compared with American cowboys.
However, the Russian army had to fight not only in the west, but also in the south. At the end of 1914, Russia was treacherously attacked by Turkey. In 1915, because of a shortage of shells and weapons, Russian troops suffered a number of major defeats and retreated, but managed to maintain combat capability. In alliance with France and Great Britain, the Russian army fought actively until the beginning of 1917. About 40% of enemy forces were restrained by Russian troops. Moreover, in the Caucasus the Russian army saved hundreds of thousands of Armenians from the Turkish genocide. The advance of the Russian army deep into Turkey was accompanied by the liberation of the Armenians and their escape from the fate of perishing in concentration camps.
However, this war became increasingly unpopular among the people. Many soldiers did not know what they were fighting for, because the battles were far away from their native places. They wanted to go home. In the rear, the citizens and peasants began to get tired of the wartime hardships. The underground revolutionary parties propagated for the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the dictatorship of the workers and peasants. The tsar himself constantly changed ministers and made mistakes in management, which made his authority quickly weaken. And then the bourgeoisie and the leaders of the State Duma decided to take advantage of the situation, remove the tsar and take power into their own hands. They were not embarrassed that a coup d’état during the war could lead to a military catastrophe. They decided to take advantage of mass strikes in Petrograd, the capital of Russia, which began in late February 1917. Later these events were called the February Revolution. In early March, the leaders of the State Duma forced the tsar to abdicate and established the Provisional Government. The first decrees proclaimed the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. Russia suddenly became the freest country in the world.
However, the Provisional Government did not solve the basic problem (peace and free use of land) of the majority of people. Workers, soldiers and peasants formed Soviets, grass-root power authority. Its political power was backed up by weapons. As the revolutionaries from the Russian Social-Democratic Party (Bolsheviks) seized influence in the Soviets, their demands became more radical: landlords’ property should be expropriated for peasants, all the factories were put under the control of the workers, an Russia should immediate exit from the war. The Provisional Government was slow with reforms, quickly lost popularity, the army began to decompose, the soldiers refused to fight.
Vladimir Ul’yanov (Lenin), the leader of the Bolshevik Party, played a special role in the revolutionary movement. He returned to Russia from emigration in April 1917, and promised to end the war, to free the common people from the power of the bourgeoisie and landowners, to establish social justice. According to his political program, all property should belong only to the people, economy should work according to the Marxist principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. This ideal of social justice was close to Russian people. And although historical practice has shown that these ideas can not be fully realized, the Bolsheviks have made the greater part of the population of Russia to believe in their propaganda.
By the fall of 1917, Provisional Government lost its popularity, while the Bolsheviks formed Red Guard troops, consisting of soldiers and sailors. On 24-25 of October, 1917, they raised an uprising and seized power in the country. These events were later called the October Revolution. The provisional government was overthrown, and the Soviet government, led by Lenin, came into power and tried to realize its promises. The first decree of Soviet power was about peace, the second - about the land.
The violent overthrow of the Provisional Government, the seizure of private property by Bolsheviks, repression against the bourgeoisie and officers caused a wave of response, which led Russia to a bloody Civil War. This war of revolutionaries ("reds") against counter-revolutionaries ("whites") continued until the end of 1920 and claimed the lives of more than 12 million people. When the Red Army finally broke the "whites" and drove out the foreign interventionists, Soviet Russia laid in ruins: millions of people were starving, factories stopped working, and the railways were destroyed. In the west, in the south and in the east, Russia lost large territories, which either became independent countries, or seized by neighboring states. The Bolsheviks had to rebuild the weakened state. But that is another story.